The AflCio And Organized Labor Regeneration Essay

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The Afl-Cio And Organized Labor; Regeneration Essay, Research Paper While researching this paper I came across a very interesting article. In the November 2000 issue of Reason magazine, Michael McMenamin leads with the following paragraph: Organized labor was a one-century phenomenon. Look it up. Union members were only 9.5% of the private sector work force in 1999, down from a peak of 37% 40 years earlier. The last time union membership was so low was in 1902, when the union members were 9.3% of the private sector work force… The current union leaders, led by AFL-CIO president John Sweeney, have no realistic plans to change course. They are presiding over the final, terminal stage of organized labor. And they like things just the way they are. (McMenamin 2000) This paper

will attempt to answer the following question. What are the unions doing to combat this decline in membership? It will also discuss the various reasons for the decline in membership. The rise of labor can be attributed to fundamental change in the economy, labor force, and political conditions. Around the turn of the 20th century unions were organized around skilled trades and crafts: bricklayers, plumbers, and carpenters. After Samuel Gompers took over as head of the AFL, the unions quickly began mobilizing the workers in markets that had been created by the recent industrialization. Coal, lumber, and autoworkers were soon under the umbrella of organized labor. These non-skilled factory workers were largely comprised of a diverse mix of immigrants, native, male and female, along

with ethnic and racial diversity. Unionization proliferated during the 1930s aided by the passage of the Wagner Act of 1935. The Wagner Act establishes the current system of unionization in which the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) supervises closed-ballot, elections held at the work place for workers deciding whether of not to unionize. According to the NLRB, by the late 1940s the AFL and CIO were winning close to three fourths of their union-representation elections. The unions reached their apex in 1954 when they represented 39 percent of the private sector workforce. (Cornfield 1999) When the AFL and CIO merged in 1955 union membership had reached 17million. However, as a share of the labor force, it had dropped to 33 percent. (Hurd 1998) The union reached its peak

membership in the early 1970s at over 23 million, yet the percentage of the labor force continued to drop. By 1995 union membership was 16 million, and by 1999 the unions made up only 9.5 percent of the private sector workforce. The decline is quite intriguing from an organizational perspective. The By-Product theory of group organization states that large groups are not formed for lobbying purposes. The group has to offer selective incentives to its members to keep them. Lobbying is one of the by-products of a group of people who share a common collective interest. The by-product theory seems to fit the labor unions. As does Robert Salisbury’s exchange theory. The exchange theory says that interest groups are formed as a relation between an entrepreneur/organizer who invests

in a set of benefits which are offered to prospective members. If one looks at the unions as exchanging selective benefits with its members, then the nature of the benefits could point to the decline in membership. There are numerous reasons offered for the steady decline in union membership. There have been changes in the labor laws of the U.S. making it harder for unions to hold and win elections. (Clawson 1999) Globalization has led to the jobs formerly held by union workers being moved to newly industrialized countries where labor is much cheaper. (Borgers 1996) Some blame the unions themselves for a lack of effort and even a lack of will when it comes to organizing new members. A 1996 AFL-CIO report puts it the following way, “instead of organizing, unions hunkered down”